Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Ojukwu Promised Me

Leader and Apostle. Lt. Colonel Ojukwu (left) and 2nd Lt. Richard Ihetu, the boxer “Dick Tiger”.

Ojukwu promised me.

Yes, that Ojukwu. Dim. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Eze Igbo. The Ikemba of Nnewi. Gburugburu.

I wrote a letter to his Queen’s Drive, Ikoyi residence (Villaska Lodge) enquiring about the possibility of interviewing the man who was the leader of the Biafran secession for my planned book on Richard Ihetu, the boxer “Dick Tiger”, who renounced Nigeria and declared his support for Biafra.

His secretary, Chief S.N.C. Ezeugwa wrote back from Enugu in an airmail letter dated February 23 1999:

Dear Adeyinka Makinde,

I have been directed by his Excellency, Dim. C. Odumegwu-Ojukwu to refer to your letter of 14th December 1998 and to wish you success in your project - (the) Biography of the late Richard Ihetu a.k.a. Dick Tiger.

He would have like(ed) to have assisted you in the areas mentioned, but due to his crowded daily schedule it is not possible. However, he has graciously agreed to give a tribute to the book.

Please confirm that this is acceptable to you.

I wish you God’s continued protection and guidance.

Signed:

Chief S.N.C. Ezeugwa
(Chief Secretary)

For: Dim C. Odumegwu-Ojukwu
(Eze Igbo)

Alas, it never came to pass. I never received another reply to my follow up letter from Chief Ezeugwa.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of the biography, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Louis versus Schmeling | June 22nd 1938

Louis versus Schmeling (Part of Sports Illustrated’s “Living Legends” series) by Bob Peak. 18” x 22” Lithograph, (1973).

“Joe Louis is the hardest puncher that I’ve ever seen … He’s a good man. Anyone who plans on beating him had better know what they’re doing.”

- Max Schmeling before the the first Louis-Schmeling fight in 1936.

The rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in 1938 was one of three world heavyweight championship bouts designated as the ‘Fight of the Century’ at the time each was contested. Before it, Jack Johnson’s meeting in 1910 with the previously undefeated Jim Jefferies had been fought on the basis that the winner would decide on the issue of racial supremacy. And in 1971, the meeting between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, two undefeated men with a claim to the title, was framed as one between representatives of the ‘establishment’ and the ‘counter-culture’.

The match between Louis and Schmeling, which took place with the backdrop of a looming world war, was touted as a battle for ideological supremacy between the freedom-embracing ideals of America on the one hand, and the totalitarian designs represented by Nazism.

Louis had unexpectedly lost the first match, a non-title one, in 1936. The result had delighted the Nazi regime which of course promoted the idea of the racial supremacy of the Aryan race. Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels had proclaimed it a victory for Germany, while the Nazi weekly journal Das Schwarze Korps had noted: “Schmeling’s victory was not only sport. It was a question of prestige for our race.”

Schmeling became an unwilling propaganda tool for the Nazi regime, and in the build up to the fight, he was invited to lunch with Adolf Hitler, who had previously shown no interest in the sport of boxing. As they watched the film of the first bout, Hitler slapped Schmeling on his leg each time he saw a blow of Schmeling’s connect with Louis.

Schmeling had accomplished the unthinkable by closely studying Louis’s fighting habits. He noted a predisposition on Louis’s part of lowering his left hand after throwing a left jab. In the fourth round, he threw an overhand right counter to a Louis jab, and dropped Louis for the first time in his professional career. Louis never recovered, and a succession of similar counters and combination punches took their toll over the course of the bout which ended in the twelfth round.

But Louis’s first round destruction of his German rival –accomplished in two-minutes and four-seconds- revenged his humiliating loss and elevated even further the adoration felt for him by the American public.

The match was also a milestone in broadcast history as an estimated 70 million people listened on their radios. It is believed to be the largest audience in history for a single radio broadcast.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is also a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing.


Thursday, 20 June 2019

Who Wants War With Iran?

Mural on a wall in Tehran depicting the Statue of Liberty with a dead face

There are people speaking astutely in the United States about this manufactured crisis with Iran. Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman is one and Ron Paul, the former congressman and libertarian, is another.

Who wants a war with Iran?

Apart from the greedy merchants of death connected with the military industry and the maniacs who feel that a global war between nuclear armed powers is winnable, and will, like the aftermath of World War One and Two, reformat the debt-ridden and collapsing international economic system, the two nations who want to see America attack Iran are the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Those two would gladly fight Iran to the last American body.

Perhaps many Americans have short memories? Or is it gung-ho patriotism at work? Or heretical dispensationalist-pretribunational Christian Zionists praying for an end times war which could draw in the Chinese and the Russians?

As Russian President Vladimir Putin recently warned, an attack on Iran would be a “catastrophe with unpredictable consequences”.

Welcome to Armageddon folks.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Beyond The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: Germany and the Geopolitical Balance of Power

Credit: Wolfgang Ammer

The recent release by the Russian authorities of the Soviet copy of the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact signed in August 1939 on behalf of Germany and the Soviet Union by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov has led to a bout of rancorous discussion. In the West, the agreement is largely perceived as having had dire consequences for the peace in Europe, while in Russia it is largely seen as a last ditch attempt at staving off war. But while each perspective has its merits, analyses that is limited only to explaining the causes of the Second World War as well as which army played the greater role in defeating Nazi Germany miss a wider and enduringly crucial picture; this is the centrality of Germany to any calibration of the geopolitical power balance. 

The Nazi-Soviet Pact was an agreement which provided that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would not attack the other or support aggressive third parties. It also provided each signatory state with spheres of influence. One week later, Hitler attacked Poland, occupying the western and central parts of the country, while the Soviet Union took over the eastern part. Hitler would later turn his military westward while Stalin would annexe the Baltic States.

The case for the pact as having served as a malign force in disturbing the peace among European nations would appear to be an open and shut one. The argument is that it enabled Hitler to attack and conquer much of Western Europe and thus start a colossal conflagration that would consume millions of lives. However, a compelling counter-argument to this from the Russian side posits that Stalin was forced into the unholy alliance simply because the Munich Agreement signed in September 1938 by Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had the motive of encouraging Hitler to embark on his anti-Bolshevik crusade.

It is, after all, widely accepted that many western politicians -and not only those who were right-wing conservatives- saw the Nazi regime as a bulwark against the spread of Soviet communism. Chamberlain’s declaration of “peace in our time” did not objectively include the Soviet Union whose western lands, Hitler regarded with envious eyes.

There is also evidence presented in a recently published Russian book, in which the Russian copy of the Nazi-Soviet Pact is reproduced, that Stalin had sought an anti-Nazi alliance with Britain and France, but that his overture was rebuffed. As revealed in 2008, the offer to move over a million troops to the border of Germany to deter Hitler was made in Moscow by senior military officials of the USSR to a visiting delegation of French and British officers two weeks before the Wehrmacht attacked Poland.

The truth is that the Western liberal democracies on the one hand, and the Soviet Union on the other, were trying to shift Nazi aggression onto the other side.

The back and forth was of course set against the background of the recent commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings from which the Russians were not invited. The not unreasonable assertion that the Soviet Union had borne most of the burden in defeating Nazi Germany was met by claims that the Soviets received massive material aid from the West which enabled them to resist the German invaders.

And while most serious scholars of military history would pinpoint the Soviet defeat of the Sixth Army and other axis armies in Stalingrad as the turning point in the war which set in motion the inexorable process of Germany’s defeat, the atmosphere among many Western analysts was not conducive to anything other than memorialising the sacrifice of allied soldiers who succeeded in the perilous venture of establishing a bridgehead in occupied Europe after the Normandy landings.

The point of this article is to put to one side the differing interpretations of the events which primed Nazi Germany to go on the attack as well as arguments pertaining to which side did the most to defeat Hitler and his axis allies, and instead to focus on the centrality of the German nation to the determination of the balance of power between the Western alliance and the Eurasian power of Russia.

The Cold War which followed Germany’s defeat after World War 2 as well as the present Cold War which has arisen since the emergence of Vladimir Putin place Germany as a focal point of the tension between east and west.

The German nation, which lost a great amount of territory, was divided into two countries because the Western allies and the Soviet Union realised that having a regenerated Germany in one of the post war camps would have given a monumental strategic advantage to one side. This issue remains at the heart of the contemporary east-west divide because a key condition; indeed, arguably the preeminent proviso which enabled the leaders of the old Soviet Union to consent to German reunification and German membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was the promise given by the leaders of the West not extend NATO “one inch eastward”.

This promise was not kept by the American-led Atlantic alliance which since the administration of President Bill Clinton has persisted in expanding NATO to Russia’s border. Guided respectively by the Wolfowitz Doctrine and the Brzezinski Doctrine, the United States has in the period since the ending of the ideological-based Cold War sought to impose a historically unprecedented form of global hegemony.

By this is meant that the ends sought by the brutal and perverted philosophy of Nazi Lebensraum was constricted in terms of the amount of territorial conquest and control of other nations. This was implicit in Hitler’s offer to Britain to keep its empire in return for giving Germany a “free hand in the east”.  The other belligerent of World War 2, Japan sought a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, imperialist by design, but not the global dimension suggested by the forged Tanaka Memorial.

But American worldly hegemony has its blue print in its domination of the global institutions of finance, namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which were created after the post-war Bretton Woods agreement. Furthermore, the U.S. dollar emerged as the de facto world reserve currency.

The “end of history”, as Francis Fukuyama infamously put it, occasioned by the fall of the Soviet Union and its dominion states in eastern Europe, meant that the free-market economic system and liberal democracy had won out in a dialectical struggle with Marxism. This would, he prophesied mean that free-market orientated liberal democracies would become the world’s “final form of human government.”

This line of thinking fell neatly into place in the new world order envisioned by those who believed in the strand of “American exceptionalism” that embraces the spread of American values by force of arms and those who subscribed to the ideology of neoconservatism and its Trotskyite-like fixation on a form of “permanent revolution” involving the export of the American economic and political system through the instrument of the American armed forces or its proxies.

Thus was born a new age of American militarism. The Wolfowitz Doctrine insisted on imposing the will of the United States even at the cost of abrogating multi-national agreements, while the Brzezinski Doctrine made a specific case for preventing the rise of a Eurasian power that would challenge Anglo-American supremacy. The latter doctrine explicitly sought to intimidate Russia to a state of military impotence, while creating the circumstances whereby Russia -preferably a balkanised Russian state- would service the energy and resource needs of the West.

Where does Germany fit into this? The projection of American military power under the auspices of NATO and the use of the European Union (EU) by the United States  to provide legitimacy for a succession of disastrously implemented interventions has exposed the necessity for restraint on the desire for the imposition of a unipolar model of an international order insisted upon by the United States to be its historical right.

Apart from providing it with the legal cover for illegal military endeavours, the EU has been used by the United States to apply pressure on other countries through the imposition of trade sanctions even when such a course of action has been to the disadvantage of members states such as Germany. For instance, the United States provided covert support for the coup which forced out the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovytch in Ukraine and brought to power ultranationalist, Russophobic parties who proceeded to threaten Russia’s vital strategic interests in the Black Sea.The not unreasonable Russian reaction of annexing Crimea after a plebiscite was construed by the United States as an act of aggression which necessitated a range of sanctions including, at US insistence, German sanctions; measures which many German business leaders opposed because they harmed the German economy.

Yet, for all its influence as the dominant nation within the EU, Germanyhas been unable to assert itself by putting a leash on American aggression. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that after defeat in two world wars, Germany has remained somewhat in the thrall of the Anglo-American world. The presence of 32,000 American troops who are permanently based there, albeit reduced from the Cold War figure of 300,000, is officially part and parcel of the business of conducting a mutually beneficial military alliance. But for a sizeable segment of the German population, their continued deployment, far from providing an assurance of national protection, bears the aura of an army of occupation; a reminder of Germany being somewhat of a dominion state of the American empire.

The lack of assertion in Germany’s political leaders stem from an erosion of a form of national self-esteem that is based on fears that an assertive Germany may lay the seeds for a resurgence of German militarism. They are also conscious of the doubts which persist among allies. Margaret Thatcher, after all, was not initially in favour of German reunification because of this age-old fear. This fear, deeply rooted in the German psyche, was addressed by Goethe, who in the Napoleonic age cautioned his countrymen about their enthusiastic embrace of nationalism and militarism. He predicted that Germany would come to disaster if they followed that path and so called on them to invest in culture and the spirit: in other words, conquer the world with their talents in music, philosophy, trade and the sciences.

Today, shorn of its martial fixation and possessing the fourth largest economy in the world, Germany would appear to be firmly on the path of which Goethe advised. Many are inclined to view the EU as a German-dominated organisation, something made all the more glaring given the decline of French economic power. Germany imposes its values on economically struggling EU states by diktat. It is a state of affairs which some cynically view as the culmination of the ‘long desired’ German ‘conquest’ of Europe.

Yet, while Germany has forsworn the trappings and the burdens of militarism, some may lament that it does not use its economic might as the basis of tempering the excesses of the American empire. One way of achieving this is to manifest a greater resolve at casting away its inhibition at defying the malign enterprises pursued by the United States so far as consenting to the illegal military adventures pursued by the American, as well as the imposition of sanctions on those perceived to be the enemies of the United States.

Unfortunately, Germany has wilted under American pressure to maintain sanctions against Russia, and while a signatory to the Five Plus One Agreement with Iran, it has begun to buckle in regard to the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran after Washington abrogated on the treaty. Many larger German commercial concerns have ceased trading with Iran as a result of the threats issued by the United States  that they would face repercussions.

There have been instances when the Germans have tried to act independently of American machinations. For instance, through the Minsk Accord of 2015 which was jointly brokered by Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Francois Hollande. It was a worthy effort aimed at creating the circumstances for peace between the warring sides in the Ukraine, but one whose failure owed a great deal to the opposition of the United States.

American animus towards Russia, something developed after the replacement of the pliant Boris Yeltsin by Vladimir Putin, poses a grave threat to world peace. It also serves as an impediment to the German national interest. Not only does NATO’s expansion eastwards, reneging of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty and deployment of a missile shield system imperil Germany, the United States has actively sought to impede the development of Nord Stream 2, the second offshore natural gas pipeline emanating from the Russian mainland which has its entry point to western Europe in Germany. The threat of sanctions issued in June 2019 by U.S. President Donald Trump against Russia is redolent of the sort of paternalism practised by the Americans after the ending of the Second World War. In the words of Trump:

We’re protecting Germany from Russia, and Russia is getting billions and billions of dollars in money.

These followed a letter writing campaign conducted in January 2019 by the US ambassador to Germany who urged the companies involved in the project to stop their work or face the possibility of sanctions.

The American claim -shared by some eastern European countries- that the project would increase Russian influence in the region, is one which Germany’s political and business leaders feel does not outweigh the benefits that will accrue once it is operational.

Nord Stream notwithstanding, the development of closer ties between Germany and Russia in a much broader sense is one which provides an existential threat of sorts to different parties. For the Anglo-American world, it would represent the beginning of the process whereby Germany jettisons out of their orbit of influence; severely weakening the basis by which British and American empires have sought to counterbalance and contain the rise of any Eurasian-centred power. The French may view it as a dynamic which would shift German focus away from Franco-German relations, which of course was at the heart of the creation of the EU project. The strengthening of Russo-German relations is also viewed with alarm by those nations in eastern Europe who have historically suffered from the projection of Russian and German power, not least of which relates to the implementation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.

Fears over an emerging power alliance were heightened in some quarters by the appearance of an article written in 2017 by a member of the Russian Izborsky Club. It called for a new geostrategic alliance between Germany and Russia which would serve as an updated version of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact by re-dividing eastern Europe between both countries.

Formed in 2012, and composed of a group of Russian intellectuals, the Izborksy club is a think-tank which disseminates strongly nationalist and anti-liberal views. The level of influence that it has in the Kremlin is something which is disputed. But the thoughts of Aleksandr Gaponenko, the head of the Baltic section of the club, were seized upon by anti-Russian think-tanks and media as evidence of what they believe would be the logical conclusion of a modern German-Russian axis.

Entitled “A Union of Russia and Germany”, Gaponenko argued that such an alliance would allow Germany to “recover” the Sudetenland, Silesia, East Prussia, Poland, Hungary and Romania as well as portions of Ukraine and Lithuania. Russia, on the other hand would take over the rest of the Baltics, Transdniestria and establish a protectorate over Belarus.

How such a fantastical enterprise could be made practicable was not addressed by Gaponenko.

What is more realistic and would be of benefit to the region is if Germany served as a bridge between the West and Russia; in the process diffusing the manufactured tension developed by successive administrations of the United States who are prodded along this path by the self-serving interests of its military industry and national security apparatus.

What is needed is a radical change in the political culture of Germany, one which has been for decades dominated by subservience to the United States, which is insistent on maintaining a form of global hegemony in regard to which Russia, China and Iran offer the last resistance.

Such a transformation of attitude and action through a new-style detente would not only serve German interests, but also the interests of the wider community of nations.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is based in England. He often blogs on topics pertaining to Global Security.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Israel's Attack on the U.S.S. Liberty was Deliberate – Excerpt from my essay “The Six Day War - Myth and Reality” (2017)


Decades have passed since the U.S.S. Liberty, an intelligence gathering ship of the United States Navy was attacked by air and naval forces of the Israeli military, with resultant fatalities and injuries to American servicemen. A cover up followed, as has an enduring silence on the matter by both American and Israeli governments. However, evidence assembled over the years has confirmed that the attack was not predicated on “human errors, unfortunate coincidences and equipment failures on both the American and Israeli sides”, as Michael Oren, an Israeli former ambassador to the U.S. once argued; rather it was a deliberate action contrived by the leaders of Israel. This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote in 2017 entitled, “The Six Day War: Myth and Reality”.

“But Sir, It’s an American Ship.”
“Never Mind, Hit Her!”

– Conversation between an Israeli pilot and the IDF War Room.

The ruthless use of propaganda as a means of camouflaging Israel’s true objectives lies behind one of the most notorious events of the Six Day War: the sinking of the USS Liberty. This murderous act of Israeli aggression against its ally, the United States, was played down as a case of attacking a target mistakenly under the fog of war.

An American intelligence gathering vessel bristling with antennae and flying the stars and stripes, the Liberty was cruising off the coast of Egypt on June 8th when attacked by a combination of Israeli air and naval forces. Thirty-four of its crew -were killed and 174 left wounded. The attack, which was almost certainly ordered by General Dayan, had occurred at a most sensitive stage of the war.

The Israelis, whose rout of the Egyptian army had brought about the unwanted burden of policing more prisoners of war than they could handle, had reached el Arish where hundreds of captured Egyptian soldiers had been executed. Some had been forced to dig their own graves while others were buried by native Bedouin tribesmen after Israeli soldiers had shot them and left the bodies rotting in the desert sun. The Liberty was well-placed to listen in on these events given that el Arish is a port city on the Mediterranean coast.

The other issue of crucial importance concerned Israel’s strategic conduct of the war. After its conquest of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s intention was to order many of its units to turn around and be redeployed so as to consolidate the capture of the West Bank and also to provide reinforcement for the units charged with attacking Syria and taking the Golan Heights.

Far from entertaining thoughts of a life or death struggle with its Arab foes which could possibly result in the mass extermination of its citizens, Israeli calculations were based on achieving certain victory. However, this would need to be accomplished within a limited time scale after which it leaders were aware that a UN Security Council-brokered ceasefire would have to be implemented.

While Israel had obtained the blessing of President Lyndon Johnson to go to war, it did not have America’s consent so far as taking over the West Bank and Syrian territory was concerned. Such actions it was felt might provoke an intervention by the Soviet Union.

Thus it was that with victory complete in the Sinai and two days left of the war, the Israelis did not want the Americans eavesdropping through the Liberty when its troops were rerouted northwards. Such was the secrecy behind the planned incursion into Syria that Prime Minister Eshkol was not told of the plan by Dayan until after he had ordered the attack on the Golan Heights.

After being closely monitored by Israeli reconnaissance planes, the Liberty was subjected to a sustained attack lasting for about two hours. The ship endured waves of attacks by strafing jets and projectiles fired from motorized torpedo boats. Crew who attempted to launch lifeboats were targeted by machine guns and napalm bombs were dropped. The intention appeared to be to sink the the ship and leave no survivors. This would have left it open for the attack to be blamed on Egypt.

Miraculously, the ship was kept afloat and a distress signal sent after having had both its tactical and distress frequencies jammed by the Israelis. Twelve fighter jets and four tanker planes stationed on the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier of the nearby American Sixth Fleet, were sent into action to defend the Liberty but were recalled by US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara. Once the Israelis knew that the American fleet had received word of the attack, they were quick to inform the Americans that their ship had been hit by mistake.

A cover up was effected by the Johnson administration under pressure from an ever more assertive Israeli lobby which had threatened to smear Johnson with the accusation of blood libel. Alongside this allegation of anti-Semitism would be a refusal by Jewish organisations to fund Johnson if he chose to run for reelection the following year.

Although the establishment cover up over the attack on the Liberty persists to this day several prominent American officials have over the years gone on the record to contradict the hastily arrived official verdict that it had been a mistake; Dean Rusk, a former US Secretary of State, and Admiral Thomas Moorer who was the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff at the time of the incident being among the most prominent of these dissenters.

In a perceptive insert in Newsweek magazine’s ‘Periscope’ column dated June 19th 1967, a staff writer offered the following thesis:

Although Israel’s apologies were officially accepted, some high Washington officials believe the Israelis knew the Liberty’s capabilities and suspect that the attack might not have been accidental. One top-level theory holds that someone in the Israeli armed forces ordered the Liberty sunk because he suspected it had taken down messages showing that Israel started the fighting.

Tape recordings of the dialogue of Israeli personnel during the attack which were available to American officials soon after the incident have been made public in recent years. On separate occasions, a voice is heard clearly identifying the Liberty as an American vessel. The position that the destruction of the USS Liberty was a tragic error is no longer tenable.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017 & 2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.


Thursday, 6 June 2019

"Thoughts" by Aleksandr Pushkin

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837) By V.I. Shukhayev

June 6th is the birth anniversary of Aleksandr Pushkin, the man considered to be the father of modern Russian literature as well as being the greatest Russian poet. I like his narrative poems and the beguiling nature of his introspective style. “Thoughts” is a favourite of mine. This is the first of two versions written in 1829.

If I walk the noisy streets,
Or enter a many thronged church,
Or sit among the wild young generation,
I give way to my thoughts.

I say to myself: the years are fleeting,
And however many there seem to be,
We must all go under the eternal vault,
And someone’s hour is already at hand.

When I look at a solitary oak
I think: the patriarch of the woods.
It will outlive my forgotten age
As it outlived that of my grandfathers’.

If I caress a young child,
Immediately I think: farewell!
I will yield my place to you.
For I must fade while your flower blooms.

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow my thoughts,
Trying to guess from their number
The year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighbouring valley
Receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
It is indifferent wherever it rots,
Yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
That young life forever will be playing,
And impartial, indifferent nature
Eternally be shining in beauty.

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

General Gustavo Leigh Guzman: A Republican General?

General Gustavo Leigh Guzman

A great deal has been written about the coup d’etat in Chile which violently overthrew the democratically elected left-wing government of Salvador Allende in 1973. Much of the literature has focused -at least from this writer’s layman’s perspective- on the figures respectively of Allende and General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, who led the junta. But little to nothing is known about the other military leaders who ruled Chile during an era characterised by violent repression.

Gustavo Leigh, the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Air Force, was an important member of the junta, and an implacable proponent of dealing harshly with the political left, but it is fascinating to discover the contrast in the approach to politics and economics between him and Pinochet; differences which led to his ouster from the junta in 1978.

Both men owed their appointments as heads of their respective branches of the armed forces to Allende. Leigh was in fact one of the primary instigators of the coup plot, with Pinochet apparently only joining the conspiracy at a late stage and taking precedence in affairs of state by virtue of the fact that he was the head of the most important branch of the military.

Both men were, of course, fervently anti-Marxist and, in their thinking, were patriots who were carrying out the sacred duty of rescuing the faltering fatherland from sinking inexorably into a pit of Marxist misery. On the night of the coup, each member of the junta representing each armed service made a brief statement that was broadcast to the Chilean people. When compared to the statements of Pinochet (Army), Merino (Navy) and Mendoza (Police), Leigh’s words are striking in their venom:

After three years of suffering the Marxist cancer which led us to economic, moral and social disaster and which could no longer be tolerated for the sacred interests of the homeland we found ourselves obliged to take on the sad and painful mission which we have undertaken.

We are not afraid. We know the enormous responsibility that will rest on our shoulders .

But we are convinced, we are quite sure that the vast majority of the Chilean people are with us. They are willing to fight against Marxism! They are willing to stamp it down to the final consequences!

While Leigh claimed in an interview in 1977 that he was unaware of human rights violations which had occurred during the first years of the dictatorship, he was, on the contrary, complicit in the uncompromisingly brutal atmosphere that permeated the rule of the generals. Indeed, on the day of the uprising, he set the tone that was to come by sending in air force jets to bomb and machine gun La Moneda, the fortress-like presidential palace in which Allende was holding out; setting it ablaze.

As a key figure of the state, Leigh was a co-overseer of the day-to-day policies of internal repression which were carried out in the name of the junta, and his later affectation of ignorance did not stand the test of scrutiny. For instance, he had to have known of the atrocities committed by the Joint Command, a part of Chilean military intelligence which coordinated the activities of the branches of the armed forces, because it had been created from the ranks of the Intelligence Service of the Air Force (SIFA). This body was responsible for the arrest, torture and elimination of 15 members of Chile’s Communist Party in 1975 and a further 10 between 1976 and 1977.

Also, his purge of the Air Force of left-wing officers delivered them into the hands of state-appointed torturers and murderers whose handiwork led to the deaths of former servicemen such as Brigadier Alberto Bachelet, the father of the future Chilean president.

Nonetheless, he fundamentally differed from Pinochet in some key areas. This did not relate to having any misgivings as to the extreme nature of the terror, a position which almost certainly cost General Oscar Bonilla his life in a mysterious helicopter crash, but was to do with what he felt should be the correct approach to the economy.

Unlike Pinochet, who readily subscribed to and applied the Libertarian economic policies theorised by a group of academicians associated with the University of Chicago, Leigh believed in strong state intervention in the economy. Whereas the ‘shock treatment’ implemented at the behest of Pinochet was based on a free market devoid of price controls and uninhibited competition from foreign concerns, Leigh supported a mixed economy with a substantive presence of the state in heavy industry, as well as the purposeful regulation of imports and the financial speculation market.

He also voiced his concerns over the absence of a timetable through which the regime would restore democracy; specifically opposing the referendum called by Pinochet to serve as a ratification of his continued tenure as head of state until at least 1986.

He restated his objection during an interview with the Paolo Buagialli, an Italian journalist working for Corriere della Sera, which was published on July 18th 1978. Leigh alluded to what he termed the old tradition of Chilean “freedom and democracy” which could not be indefinitely denied. He also strongly implied that intransigence on the part of the military in this matter could precipitate the masses. Leigh further claimed that he would reconsider his position as a member of the junta if it were confirmed that the Chilean state had been involved in the assassination of Oscar Letelier and other misdeeds including torture.

His words were all the more striking given that indictments were at the time expected to be brought against General Manuel Contreras, the head of the dismantled secret police organisation named Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), two other army officers and an American, Michael Townley.

Pinochet responded by dismissing Leigh on July 24th 1978 (obtaining the consenting signatures of the other two members of the four-man junta) and removing 18 of the 20 members of the air force general staff. The New York Times reported that Pinochet had “established unopposed control over the governing military junta by demolishing his main critic”.

Leigh died in September 1999 at the age of 79 after surviving and recovering (apart from the loss of an eye) from an assassination attempt carried out by members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front who burst into his office and opened fire on him.

It is clear that from the time of his membership of the junta, he had begun working towards establishing a legacy which would distance him from the Pinochet regime. These efforts did not end with the public utterances exposing his different outlook on political and economic issues. It now transpires that Leigh had regularly taped conversations between himself and other members of the junta with a recording device placed in his jacket.

He did not publish the contents of the tapes after the restoration of democracy because he feared being sued. However, a book written by his widow, Gabriela Garcia de Leigh, has reproduced much of their content. Entitled Leigh: El General Republicano, the book is clearly presented with the objective of dissociating Leigh from the excesses of the Pinochet regime. One example relates to Leigh’s thoughts after reading a letter addressed to him from Mariana Callejas, the wife of Michael Townley, the American agent of DINA who carried out the assassinations of General Carlos Prats and Orlando Letelier.

The import here was that Leigh did not initially believe that Pinochet was capable of orchestrating such crimes and that he confronted him about the matter, even though he himself was implicated in the disappearance of leaders of the communist party and was detained under the orders of an investigating judge. He did not face any sanction owing to an amnesty.

El General Republicano, also attempts to place Leigh thinking as one who had considered the military intervention of 1973 to be a corrective measure that would be a brief one before a return to “normalcy”. Hence the reference to the term “republican”, implies that he fundamentally believed in democratic constitutionalism, albeit that he had not felt bound by General Rene Schneider’s doctrine of non-interference by the army and partook in the overthrow of the Chilean constitution. For Leigh, who once called the coup the “gravest defeat suffered by international communism”, the ends justified the means.

The book seems unlikely to change much in terms of the way the Chilean public view their past. The divisions between those who feel that the coup saved Chile from a civil war and laid the basis for its present relative economic prosperity on the one hand, and those who feel that that it inaugurated the darkest epoch in Chilean national history is as clear as ever.

Leigh will remain a hero to some and a villain to others for the foreseeable future.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.